Negotiations with Uganda to take in asylum seekers from Israel have not yet ended, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said Sunday, and consequently, 207 asylum seekers jailed for refusing to leave Israel voluntarily for Uganda will be released Sunday.
Last week, the High Court of Justice instructed Mendelblit that if he did not confirm that an updated agreement had been concluded by Sunday at noon, and if Mendelblit was not satisfied with arrangements for its implementation, the asylum seekers detained at Saharonim Prison would be released that same day.
According to the High Court panel, headed by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, “there was no longer a reason to hold them in custody” in the absence of an agreement with what the court called “a second third country.” The High Court also extended the suspension of the government’s deportation plan by two more weeks.
On Friday, Uganda announced that it was “positively considering” taking in up to 500 Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers from Israel. Uganda’s minister for relief, disaster preparedness and refugees, Musa Ecweru, told Haaretz that his country would only accept refugees who wanted to go to Uganda and would accept no one who was sent there forcibly. He said contacts were underway between the governments but that he was unaware of a special envoy.
Uganda has repeatedly denied over the past few weeks that it has been holding talks with Israel on taking in asylum seekers. Last week, in response to a query from Haaretz, the Ugandan president’s spokeswoman said that Uganda “is not prepared to accept asylum seekers from Israel without their consent.” Despite Uganda’s sweeping denials, the state insisted last week to the High Court that there were ongoing talks with the authorities. “The second third country is committed to an arrangement with it – a commitment that manifested itself just recently,” the state’s document said.
"The dangerous plan to deport refugees to Uganda and Rwanda is disintegrating and the refugees that were unjustly jailed will be released," a statement of human rights groups said.
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"The government continues to make cynical use of asylum seekers and promotes anti-democratic laws while utterly shirking its obligation to rehabilitate neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv.” The Human rights groups including Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, Assaf – Aid Organization for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, Physicians for Human Rights, Kav Laoved, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the African Refugees Development Center) said in response to Mendelblit’s answer to the court.
The movement Stop the Deportation said: “Another day of shame for the government of Israel instead of taking responsibility. Today it was made undeniably clear that forced deportation is no longer on the agenda. Third world countries are also no longer prepared to be partners in such an inhumane move.”
There are approximately 39,000 Eritrean and Sudanese citizens now in Israel. According to Population and Immigration Authority figures, over the past three and a half years, some 1,750 people have left Israel for Uganda. In 2015, 485 asylum seekers left, in 2016, 506 people left and in 2017, the figure was 630. So far this year, 128 people have left.